The Little Idiot and the Born Manager
“The Little Idiot and the Born Manager” is a story of modern business life. The title role characters are young ladies of different types. A law office is the scene of activities. Margaret B. Shipp, who writes the story, is well known as the author of “The Worshipper” and “The Jealousy of Mrs. Pete.”
Margaret Busbee Shipp
WHEN people in Millersville said how fortunate it was that Bessie Hubbard had her cousin to depend upon, they lost sight of that provision of nature which always gives a vine something to cling to. Nobody except a born manager like Delia Denton, they averred, could have made Bessie keep at her stenography until she had acquired a fair rate of speed, and had qualified herself to accompany Delia to the city.
For a year Delia had filled a position in a local lawyers office, but in Millersville six dollars a week was considered ample emolument for a woman, so she decided to seek her fortune in one of the larger places in the State — a Southern manufacturing town of some thirty thousand inhabitants. Mrs. Denton
could live with a married son, and Bessie, who had made her home with them since her orphaned childhood, must perforce go with Delia.
The girls opened an office, and, after a slack month or two, Delia’s ability asserted itself. Some one telephoned to ask if she could fill the place of a court reporter, suddenly taken ill. She was so sure of her speed and of her familiarity with legal phrases that it never occurred to her to hesitate. Success in this case made the way plain, and soon there were few moments in which the typewriters were not clicking steadily. Bessie, of course, could not undertake court reporting, but letters and the overflow of Delia’s work kept her busy.
Delia began to realize the satisfaction
of depositing a tiny sum in the savingsbank each month. The city stores were so tempting to a country-bred girl that Bessie was always in debt. Delia kept a watchful eye upon her cousin’s purchases, constantly pruning the exuberances of her taste.
“Doesn’t the back fit beautifully?” asked Bessie one morning, pirouetting before a mirror in their small bedroom.
“Ye—es; but, somehow, Bessie, you never look like a business woman. There is always something a little too festive about your appearance. It must be that collarette, or the way your hair blows around your face, that makes you look as if you were going out to a morning card-party instead of an office I”
“I can’t keep my hair from curling,” replied Bessie amiably, “and I’m sure I can’t walk half as comfortably in such low heels, but I’m dressed just like you, Dee.”
“There’s a difference,” said Delia, herself puzzled to locate the contrast in the mirror.
When she stood beside her cousin, it reflected two girls of equal years, both brown-haired and blue-eved, dressed in plain street suits. Bessie’s eyes were big and appealing, her mouth drooped nlnintivelv or slipped into laughter according to her moods, and her hair broke into ripples all over her head. Her love of daintiness was manifested bv the pretty way in which she arranged her tresses, bv the careful manicuring of her remarkably lovely hands, and by those little accessories of. dress which Delia called “festive.”
Delia was straight as a sapling, with eyes clear and keen. a. wholesome color, and a firm mouth. The hat she was pinnine on just missed being becoming.
“Well, let’s hurrv to the office. Mr. Biscoe telephoned that he wished to see me upon a matter of especial importance.”
“Is he handsome?” inquired Bessie.
Delia looked her annoyance.
“He must be past thirty-five, with a reddish face and a thick-set fisure.”
“Is he married?” pursued Bessie.
Delia allowed the annoyance to flash out.
“Bessie, I wish you wouldn’t ask such
silly questions. It is positively ill-bred. It is immaterial to me whether the customer from whom I am taking dictation has a hooked nose or a harelip, is married, divorced, or a bigamist.”
“A bigamist?” gasped Bessie. “Which one?”
“You little idiot!” laughed her cousin; and Bessie knew she was forgiven without understanding where she had offended.
Mr. Biscoe came to offer Delia the place of stenographer in his office.
“I’ve always had a man, but I liked your work in the Biggs-Hammer case, and I think you can fill the position.”
Delia declined on the ground of the wider opportunity of an independent office, but offered to take the place for a week or two until he could find some one else.
“Why, I thought you would have jumped at it,” said, Bessie, after the door had closed on him.
“So did Mr. Biscoe,” returned Delia briefly.
“But you said the other day that work fell off so during the summer that you were afraid we couldn’t afford a vacation, while if we held regular positions we should be granted a fortnight’s leave on full pay.”
“At the end of a week, he will repeat his offer, and with more eagerness,” Delia stated quietly.
Her prophecy was verified, and she accepted the position at a slight increase of salary. So capable a machine did she prove, so intelligent a helper, that by the end of a month she was as much a part of Biscoe’s office as his revolving chair.
T eft without the stimulus of her energetic associate’s presence, Bessie’s work languished. For a time, a book manuscript kept her occupied, but when her earnings fell so low that they failed to pay her expenses, Delia decided to save office-rent and board by sending Bessie to Millersville for a visit.
There was a political convention in early August, so the work beforehand was very heavy and urgent. After it was over, and Biseoe’s wing of the party had triumphed, he told Miss Denton that she had better arrange to take her
fortnight’s vacation the last two weeks in August. He asked if she had thought of a substitute. When Delia suggested her cousin, he nodded, and Bessie was sent for.
She was a day late in arriving, and as nothing short of the earth being “staggered to the final shock” would have induced Delia to leave on a different train from the one she had named, Bessie had to go alone to the office. In the summertime, Bessie would never have struck one as a business proposition. In her white linen suit, little tan ties, and becoming hat, she looked about sixteen; and when she presented herself to Biscoe, she was too well versed in disapprobation not to read it in his eyes. ¡She knew that expression from Delia.
“You don’t like the way I look?” she faltered. “I could get a black dress if you think it would make me seem dignified enough.”
Biscoe smiled at the accurate reading of his thoughts, and at her idea of dressing up to the exalted part of his stenographer.
“That is not necessary, Miss—er — Hubbard, is it? Miss Denton is only to be absent a fortnight.”
He recalled that fact with satisfaction several times during the morning, for Bessie was confused by her new duties. Later on, when she was at the typewriter, she suddenly looked up and asked him how to spell a word which puzzled her. Everybody knows , how easy it is to forget the vowels of certain catchwords of spelling-bees, and Biscoe answered curtly:
When the typed letter was handed to him, he glanced over it and said:
“That word looks wrong. You will find a dictionary on that stand.”
“It’s spelled with an ‘ï in here,” announced Bessie tranquilly; “but I think it looks much nicer the way you spell it.”
It would have been impossible for any one to have assumed the faith of that tone ; Biscoe was amused to see that she regarded Noah Webster and himself as equal authorities.
Delia had seen Biscoe as a keen, shrewd lawyer, his practise confined to office-work and real-estate transactions, and having, as a side issue, an interest and a distinct influence in the politics of the State. That was Biscoe—though little less than the man.
Bessie soon came to regard him as the legal luminary of the country, and when the party chairman and State officials dropped in to consult him frequently, she regarded him as the hub around which the wheel of government revolved. That was Biscoe, or a little more than Biscoe.
Delia had casually noticed that he was growing bald. Bessie thought irongray hair most distinguished. She had no fear of him personally. It was so natural to her to depend upon the person nearest to her that in difficulties over her notes, or perplexities of construction, she appealed to him much as she would have appealed to Delia. Each time Biscoe determined to tell her that she must not interrupt him for trivialities, but she was so little and so helpless that he invariably postponed it.
One day she went further, and with the same naive ignorance. After washing her hands, she discovered that there was no towel. This could never have happened to Delia; she would have ascertained the fact beforehand, summoned and rebuked the janitor, and had the deficiency remedied. With outstretched, dripping hands, Bessie advanced toward Mr. Biscoe.
“WThat shall I do? There isn’t any towel !”
The appealing quality in Bessie was epitomized in her hands. They were soft and white, babyishly pink in the palms, tapering to the slender, blueveined wrist and into the rounded arm, dimpled at the elbow. It was the first time that Biscoe had noticed how — how almost unbelievably pretty they were.
“Try my handkerchief. It’s larger than yours.”
He shook out a snowy piece of linen. Somehow — he hardly knew how it happened, from what hidden spring the
impulse came—he found himself drying them for her, taking both the confiding little hands in his own for a moment.
Bessie thanked him, sweet and unabashed. As she was used to small services being rendered her from everybody with whom she came in contact, it did not occur to her that she had received a rather unusual one from her employer; but the recollection of it annoyed Biscoe all day, and he was glad to recall that Miss Denton would return in two days. Next morning, however, a gasp of dismay from his stenographer was followed by her quick step to the side of his desk, with an open letter in her hand.
“Oh, Mr. Biscoe, Dee has sprained her ankle ! Isn’t it perfectly dreadful? And she wears such sensible heels, tool There is a note enclosed for you. I am so sorrv for Dee 1”
Mr. Biscoe read the note, drumming impatiently on his desk.
“I sha’n’t keep this chattering baby indefinitely. I’ll let her go, and take on that young fellow who applied for a place,” he decided.
With this determination he wheeled in his chair, to encounter the most wobegone, downcast face imaginable.
“Why, a sprained ankle doesn’t amount to much,” he said kindly.
“It—it wasn’t that,” she stammered. “You will think I am a selfish, wicked girl to be thinking of myself and not of poor, darling Dee, but I had so counted on leaving your office to-morrow !” “Ah?”
“You see it’s Wednesday, so I promised Mr. Eller to go to the matinée with him ; and after it was over, Mr. Greene was going to meet me at the door of the theatre and take me out in an automobiler
“And who are these young men?” asked Biscoe, in a tone which would have done credit to Delia herself.
# “They are very nice,” explained Bessie earnestly. “Mr. Eller boards in the house with me, and he brought Mr. Greene to call—he’s a bank clerk. They are very kind, and now that Dee is gone, and they are afraid I will be lonely, one or the other of them stays with me every
evening. You see, I’ve never been in an automobile, and Mr. Greene was going to get one from the garage. At Millersville, almost every young man has a horse and buggy, and I used to go for a drive every afternoon, so I miss it here.”
“You ought not to go out with young men of whom you know little or nothing. Is that young Greene of the First National?”
Bessie nodded. Biscoe knew him by reputation as a “gay” young fellow, not especially bad, but liable at times to be anything but a wise companion for so young and ignorant a girl.
“You had better call them up by phone and let them know of your cousin’s accident and your change of plans.”
Bessie noticed the curtness of his tone, but was unaware of his concession in retaining her services.
Wednesday was à glorious day, and several times Biscoe caught Bessie gazing wistfully out of the window. She made him think of a caged hummingbird. He thought how childishly she had longed for the ride in the hired machine, of his chauffeur, “eating his head off worse than a horse,” of his big touring-car, and how seldom he had used it all summer. Just an hour in it would be such a treat to this poor girl ! He cleared his throat.
“My car will be around about five o’clock,” he said. “If you like, I’ll take you for a short spin in it, so that you can see how it compares with Millersville rapid transit.”
Bessie’s hands dropped in her lap with a pretty gesture of bewilderment.
“Oh, I do believe you are the most unselfish person in the world!” she exclaimed.
That view of one’s actions is so easy to adopt, that though the “short spin” lengthened into a long ride over the country roads, though Bessie’s face, with its encircling veiling, had never looked rosier or prettier, though her chatter amused him until he had not been so self-forgetful in years — yet when they came back in the purple dusk of the late summer evening, he still believed the sweet voice with its
trailing inflection that murmured he had been “so good, so unselfish.”
His complaisance tinged his greeting the next morning. Of course, he didn’t want the little stenographer to misunderstand an act of pure kindness — one that there was no necessity to repeat.
A letter was on Bessie’s desk, and as she read it, she gave a startled exclamation.
“No more bad news, I hope?”
“Would you mind reading it, if you’re not too busy, and telling me how to answer it? I never had a rude note before I”
It was from the indignant Mr. Greene, who,_ from the Country Club, had seen passing “what at first appeared to be an elderly man kidnapping a child, but on second glance roved to be Miss Hubbard and er plethoric employer. Naturally
a previous engagement w*as thrown over for the opportunity of enjoying an added hour in such society.” It was the crude outburst of a furiously angry boy, and it should not have irritated Mr. Biscoe as much as it did.
“You can refer him to me for any explanation he wishes as to your broken
engagement. Get your note-book, child. Now say—”
Biscoe dictated her reply, and Bessie began to copy it off on a sheet of robin’segg note-paper. Biscoe did not return to his work; he was waiting for a question he knew was inevitable.
“How do you spell ‘surveillance’?”
He laughed aloud.
“I was absolutely sure you would ask that, you little goose.”
A rosy Hush dyed the fairness of the girl’s face and throat. Every boy in Millersville who had made love to her had begun by calling her that ! By the time they said “You little idiot!” they were very far gone indeed.
Biscoe mistook the blush, and thought, with quick contrition, that he had hurt her feelings.
“Don’t bother over the loss of your peppery young clerk. We will go out in the machine for a while this afternoon, if you wish, and show him that you are not weeping over his note.
THREE weeks later, Delia tranquilly opened a letter. Bessie’s epistles were never very exciting affairs.
“I’ve been dreadfully stingy in letters lately, dearest Dee, but I have been so busy.” Delia looked approvingly. “You scolded me in your last for writing you about the fall styles instead of the office, but I thought you would rather have your mind off the work while you’re away. Mr. Biscoe is the soul of kindness, and we are lucky girls to work under such a splendid man.” Delia looked dubious. “He says he is afraid the confinement of an office will cause me to lose my roses, so he takes me out in his car every afternoon, and he leaves earlier than he used to.” Delia looked electrified. “It is painted red, and goes like the wind. Sometimes we stop at the restaurant at the Country Club for dinner, and you ought to hear how wonderfully he orders! Don’t hurry back until you are perfectly well. With loads of love, I remain your devoted Bessie.
“P. S.—If anybody ever patted your cheek, would you like it?”
Delia looked whiter than the paper. She packed her grip to return by the first train. To her family she only vouchsafed that she had been called back a few days earlier than she had expected. Everything she had ever heard about credulous young girls falling into more or less serious trouble through their ignorance of the world thronged to her mind and filled it with anxious forebodings. If she had never left the office! If she were only there now!
Certainly the actual scene in it would have startled her, for Bessie was there alone, crouched on the floor in the furthest corner, her fingers to her ears, her face pale and terrified.
It was so that Biscoe found her when he came in shortly.
“Why, Bessie, what on earth is the matter?”
She burst into the relief of sobs.
“Oh, quick! Go out quick!”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, bewildered.
Stooping over her, he lifted her to her feet and gave her a gentle shake. Trying to control herself, she explained.
“It’s the men in the next office. They are gambling! . .1 passed by, and the door was partly opened, and they had cards and piles of red and blue chips, and I heard them betting !”
“Did any of those young puppies dare to say anything to you?” demanded Biscoe, his hands tightening on the girl’s wrists.
“No, they didn’t even see me; but I knew they were gambling, and I was afraid you might pass by just as they began to shoot, or the bullets might come through the wall, so I wouldn’t go to lunch. I waited to warn you. Oh, please, let’s hurry away !”
“Shooting?” repeated Biscoe, completely at sea.
“Of course,” cried Bessie impatiently. “You know they always shoot pistols after they gamble a while. I’ve read Mr. Bret Harte’s stories, and I’ve seen it in two plays. They might hit you !”
She lifted the pleading, drowned forget-me-nots of her eyes.
“Oh, you little idiot!” He did not
know that he was murmuring the magic word — the open sesame. “Is all this crying because you were so afraid for me, Bessie? I met Allston in the elevator, so the game’s over and we’re safe this time. You darling little idiot!”
His arms closed around her. He bent his face to he:rs.
Delia, having made herself so neat from the contents of her satchel that there was no lingering taint of the train, knocked at the door half an hour later. The radiance reflected on both faces, and Bessie’s rapturous greeting, made it difficult for her to begin ; but Biscoe saved her the necessity.
“I am very glad to see you again, Miss Denton. I have persuaded your little cousin to brighten up that empty house of mine, and as I have never believed in long engagements, I am sure you will help her to hurry with her preparations. Bessie, I selfishly forgot you have had no lunch; you must be starved. I’ll come by for you in the car at six. Miss Denton, can you go to work at once? There is quite an accumulation of mail, and your cousin has been somewhat — er — agitated this morning.”
At Delia’s brief assent, Biscoe looked up to smile good-by to Bessie, and drew a formidable pile of letters toward him.
“You are ready? 'Messrs. Steele & Simpkins, 14 West Third Street, City. Dear Sirs, I regret the unavoidable delav in replving to your communication of—’ ”
“A heavy afternoon’s work and a headache from anxiety is what comes to me !” thought Delia, rather bitterly.
But it has been said that Delia’s judgment of Biscoe was somewhat less than the man. It was some years later that she reaped the reward of her efficient service in his office, and never did Biscoe show a more unselfish spirit than Avhen he threw the weight of his political influence toward securing her appointment as head of the business department of the new normal college. Mrs. Denton came to live Avith her daughter in the pretty suite of rooms reserved for their use. The savings-
bank account has grown to respectable proportions; and in her summer vacations Delia has gratified her fondness for travelling by chaperoning parties of girls abroad.
She is President of the Women’s Civic League, a moving factor in the School Betterment Society and the Tuesday Afternoon Book Club, and quite wonderfully finds time for her various activities and interests, to Bessie’s delighted admiration. As for Bessie herself, she is so happy and so cherished that she is prettier than ever, and ridiculously young-looking to be at the head of a family.
When the third child was born, Delia looked at him appalled, realizing afresh that if commonplace people will marry, they must expect commonplace children.
“Isn’t he a darling?” gurgled Bessie. “Babies are such fun !” Then she remembered that she had been rebuked for this sentiment, so she added, in apologetic haste: “I mean they are such grave responsibilities. Whom do you think he looks like, Dee?”
“He is the image of his father,” stated Delia, not compromising with the bald and painful truth.
Bessie was so overjoyed with this verdict that Biscoe Avas summoned from the next room.
“Oh, dearest, Dee says so, too! She thinks he looks exactly like you, and vou thought it was just my imagination because I wanted it that way !”
Delia simply averted her eyes from the fatuous satisfaction that beamed in Biscoe’s face.
“Thank Heaven I Avas Mr. Biscoe’s stenographer!” she thought, as she left the room.
“Poor Dee!” reflected Bessie. “Sweetheart, hoAV glad T am that you married
“So am T,” said Biscoe emphatically, stooping to kiss her.
So it would seem that the partnership of the Little Tdiot and the Born Manager Avas dissob'ed to the entire satisfaction of all the parties concerned.